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My Halesowen great-grandmother had post natal depression - and was sent to lunatic asylum

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 06, 2014

  • Ray Rose and his wife Fanny and toddler daughter Mary, my mother - Torquay 1922

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I HAVE been researching my family history for well over 30 years now, but probably the most satisfying achievement was tracing the family of my maternal grandfather.

My grandfather, Ray Perry Rose, had been born in Halesowen but my mother knew very little about him as he died in 1934 when she was only 14 years old, and he had said nothing about his own family background. All that she was able to tell me was that she remembered that she went to Halesowen a few days after his death to see two of her father's brothers whom she thought were named Tom and Percy, and that they lived together in a small cottage in the town centre.

An additional bit of information was that she thought they had a housekeeper as children, but this seemed at odds with the humble home she described visiting.

With precious little information to go on I began to do some searching of genealogical records on the internet and soon located a potential family in the 1881 census. This showed a family living in Shenstone Street, Halesowen, and included two children called Thomas and Percy. My great-grandparents' family group consisted of father Thomas Rose, aged 36 and a gun filer; mother Elizabeth Rose, also aged 36; and the two children Thomas aged 2 and Percy who was just a few months old. This was a vital breakthrough and soon enabled me to fill out quite a bit of information about the family. I found out that Percy had a middle name, Davenport, which made me think that this may be a maternal line surname as it was not a common Christian name.

This proved to be correct and I located the marriage of Thomas Rose and Elizabeth Davenport at St John the Baptist Church, Halesowen, on January 25, 1876. I soon discovered that they had had another son, Edward, who had died at nine months old, and a daughter, Nellie Maud, as well as my grandfather, Ray.

Applying for a birth certificate confirmed my grandfather was born on September 15, 1885, although my mother had always been told it was 1886. The surprise came when I trawled the 1891 census. The family group were still living in Shenstone Street but consisted only of father Thomas, Percy and Nellie. I quickly traced my grandfather to an address in Coomb's Wood, living with his aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Edward Gittins, and their niece Emily White. Thomas Junior was located as a pupil at a Deaf, Dumb & Blind School in Walcot, Somerset, leaving just Elizabeth to trace. I finally found her and was quite shocked to learn that she was an inmate at the County Lunatic Asylum in Powick, Worcestershire.

Wishing to learn more I was able to visit the County Record Office at Worcester and gain access to Elizabeth Rose's asylum records which are thankfully well preserved and, being more than 100 years old, were available for inspection. The asylum opened on August 11, 1851, but was not completed until October 1853, eventually closing in 1959. At the time of Elizabeth Rose's residency at the asylum Dr Marriott-Cooke was the Medical Attendant.

The admission register shows Elizabeth was admitted on November 10, 1885, aged 40, and she was recorded as the wife of a gun barrel filer and previously a domestic servant, previously resident at Birmingham Road, Shenstone, Halesowen, Worcestershire. The form of mental disorder was described as "dementia" with the supposed cause cited as "debility and suckling" Her bodily condition noted a dilated heart, bronchitis and oedema (swelling) of the feet. The duration of her attacks is listed as two months which corresponded with the birth of my grandfather, Ray.

The following are a few extracts from the case notes. They make somewhat harrowing reading and have led me to the conclusion that although she was physically quite sickly, the main problem was quite probably post-natal depression. Imagine if that led to admission to an asylum nowadays!

Undated: She had an apoplectic fit 14 weeks ago and lost the use of her right limbs for three weeks and the power of speech for a week. From the time of the fit she has had bad memory but since the confinement has become much worse. She is not epileptic, but is dangerous to others, not known whether suicidal. Her certifier states she is very restless and sleepless and has a vacant look, thinks her baby is going to be killed, also that a neighbour's child died, and some sovereigns have been thrown into the sea. She had an attack of acute mania on the 7th instance.

November 10, 1885: She is an obese woman with a heavy, vacant and puzzled expression of face. Heart is probably dilated and is acting feebly and irregularly. Mind: she is dull, heavy and lost, stares vacantly ahead, hardly ever speaks but seems to appreciate some little of what is said to her. When she does try to speak it is merely to say yes or no in an uncertain halting and sometimes senseless way, saying yes when she means no. It is not possible to investigate her cerebral symptoms with any approach to detail, on account of the great degree of intellectual torpor that is present.

November 15, 1885: Has been restless and about her room on her hands and knees all night.

July 16, 1886: Was found with a piece of ribbon secreted in her bed. Says she wants to hang herself if no one will do it for her.

November 22, 1886: Tried to set fire to her hair last night. A special suicidal eviction paper has been given to the Charge Nurse.

March 8, 1887: She remains very deluded. Says that she is in Hell. Restless and agitated.

January 21, 1892: She is worse today. Breathing rapid and distressed

January 22, 1892: Last night was much worse. Gradually sank and died in the night. Cause certified: chronic bronchitis, fatty dilated heart of several years' duration.

Having established Elizabeth had spent her final years in a asylum it became less strange to think of the children being brought up by a "housekeeper" as Thomas Senior would have needed assistance to raise his children while working to provide for them. Further analysis of the census records proved useful as I found that after the death of Elizabeth in 1892 he had married again, to Elizabeth Francombe who was around 20 years younger than he was. She turned out to be the daughter of their long-standing next-door neighbours. Although Thomas died in 1913 the second Elizabeth would still have been alive when my mother visited Halesowen to break the news of her father's death.

I eventually discovered that Ray Rose was raised by one of his mother aunt's and her maiden name was Perry, hence his middle name. Emily White, the other niece who had lived with Elizabeth and Edward Gittins, played a major role in my grandfather's life even though I can't trace her blood connection to Elizabeth or Edward. In time Emily moved to Bournville in Birmingham and married a man named Thomas Rose, a coincidence rather than a member of our extended family. Ray lived with Thomas and Emily as a teenager, taking a job at Cadbury's chocolate factory, where he worked all his life. It was here he met and married my grandmother, Fanny Guise, and living in Cotteridge and Stirchley, so he never strayed that far from his Halesowen roots. He died from pneumonia in 1934, which brings us back to where this account began.

Over the years I have traced my Rose and Davenport ancestry back quite a way, mainly in Halesowen and Belbroughton, and was even fortunate enough to make contact with direct descendants of my grandfather's sister, Nellie Maud Rose, who my mother had not even known existed prior to my research.

I'm still researching this line. If anyone thinks they might be linked they are welcome to contact me at sacullen@hotmail.co.uk

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